Titel: The New City A Novel
Verlag: New York: Doubleday,
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An immensely powerful social novel about community and race in America--large in its scale and ambition, shattering in its impact--that transforms suburbia into the setting for great fiction.
Newton, Maryland, 1973. The Vietnam War is winding down, the Senate Watergate hearings are heating up. And in this pristine and meticulously planned community, an innocent misunderstanding is about to set the two men who control its quiet streets on a fateful collision course.
Austin Swope is the white lawyer who made the dream of this new city a reality through years of cunning lawyering and smooth real-estate deals. Earl Wooten is the up-by-his-bootstraps black master builder who with his bulldozers and backhoes raised Newton from its foundations--and in the process, he believes, escaped a lifetime of racism and privation. They are best friends, as are their two teenaged sons, Teddy and Joel, each the repository of their respective fathers' deepest hopes. The shining future beckons.
But cracks are appearing. A fight at the Teen Center over music escalates into a near race riot. Bad publicity ensues, which Austin knows is detrimental to business. Earl has problems as well: construction delays, exploding gaslights, and a son in love with a beautiful blond, Susan Truax, daughter of a Vietnam veteran who is finding peace a greater challenge than war. In a city born of a vision of racial harmony, the seeds have been sown for a series of mixed signals, miscalculations, and entirely human failings to culminate in an inexorable slide toward destruction.
Perfect in every period detail, The New City is an important novel that combines compassion for its flawed characters with a brilliant, gripping plot that gathers momentum on every page. An American tragedy on a grand scale, a cathartic occasion of pity and terror, and a vision of the country, in its best and worst aspects, at a pivotal point in its social history, The New City announces Stephen Amidon's arrival as a major novelist.
The American journalist Stephen Amidon spent 15 years living in London, and during that time he wrote a trio of fiction books whose very brevity seemed to reflect the English penchant for understatement. Now, however, he has returned to the United States. And it's hard not to see The New City--a long, dense, detail-encrusted narrative of the kind that a cutting-edge Theodore Dreiser might have produced--as a token of his homecoming. Even the subject of the novel, a meticulously planned utopian community in the Maryland suburbs, is as American as apple pie. And so, alas, is the ingrained racism that ultimately destroys this Watergate-era city on a hill.
The dream community of Newton is largely the work of two men. One, a white lawyer and developer named Austin Swope, has specialized in pitching his vision to the masses, not to mention the deep-pocketed investors:
Look, he said, passing a conjurer's hand through the air above the model. No overhead power lines or billboards or factories to blot out the sky. With the exception of a single central building, nothing would rise above the trees. And Newton's citizens would work where they lived, in landscaped business parks that housed new industries like telecommunications and computers. They would shop in nearby village centers and worship under the discreetly steepled roofs of interfaith centers.Too good to be true? That's exactly what Swope and his master builder, a black construction ace named Earl Wooten, discover in the course of the novel. As the Vietnam War winds down and the Watergate hearings ramp up, the ugly discords of American life seep directly into Newton. Racism and paranoia--the stock-in-trade of American political life, circa 1973--soon separate not only Swope and Wooten but their two sons. Like most paradises, this one is lost in painful increments, and Amidon has structured a suspenseful narrative around Newton's rise and fall. At times the sheer pile-up of detail can stop the story in its tracks. Still, the author has managed to erect an impressive fictional edifice, and unlike the misbegotten community, it appears to be built to last. --Nicole Nolan
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